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Race in America 2019: Public Has Negative Views of the Country’s Racial Progress

By Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Anna Brown and Kiana Cox—April 9, 2019

More than 150 years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, most U.S. adults say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on the position of black people in American society today. More than four-in-ten say the country hasn’t made enough progress toward racial equality, and there is some skepticism, particularly among blacks, that black people will ever have equal rights with whites, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Opinions about the current state of race relations – and President Donald Trump’s handling of the issue – are also negative. About six-in-ten Americans (58%) say race relations in the U.S. are bad, and of those, few see them improving. Some 56% think the president has made race relations worse; just 15% say he has improved race relations and another 13% say he has tried but failed to make progress on this issue. In addition, roughly two-thirds say it’s become more common for people to express racist views since Trump became president.

Blacks are particularly gloomy about the country’s racial progress. More than eight-in-ten black adults say the legacy of slavery affects the position of black people in America today, including 59% who say it affects it a great deal. About eight-in-ten blacks (78%) say the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites, and fully half say it’s unlikely that the country will eventually achieve racial equality.

Americans see disadvantages for blacks and Hispanics in the U.S. A majority of all adults (56%) say being black hurts people’s ability to get ahead at least a little, and 51% say the same about being Hispanic. In contrast, 59% say being white helps people’s ability to get ahead. Views about the impact of being Asian or Native American are more mixed.

Blacks, Hispanics and Asians are more likely than whites to say being white helps people’s ability to get ahead at least a little. Among whites, those who are more educated, as well as those who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, are particularly likely to see advantages to being white.

The nationally representative survey of 6,637 adults was conducted online Jan. 22-Feb. 5, 2019, in English and Spanish, using Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.1 In addition to exploring the public’s views about the state of race relations and racial inequality in America, the survey also looks at personal experiences with racial and ethnic discrimination and the role race plays in people’s lives. Among the report’s key findings:

Most Americans say it’s now more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views; more than four-in-ten say it’s more acceptable

Most Americans (65%) – including majorities across racial and ethnic groups – say it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Trump was elected president. A smaller but substantial share (45%) say this has become more acceptable.

Democrats and those who lean Democratic are more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say it has become more common and more acceptable for people to express racist and racially insensitive views since Trump was elected president. Among Democrats, 84% say this is now more common and 64% say it’s more acceptable; fewer than half of Republicans say it has become more common (42%) and just 22% say it has become more acceptable for people to express these types of views.

Views of Trump’s handling of race relations are far more negative than views of how Obama handled the issue

A majority of Americans (56%) say Trump has made race relations worse; just 15% say he has made progress toward improving race relations, while 13% say he has tried but failed to make progress and 14% say he hasn’t addressed this issue. In contrast, 37% say Barack Obama made progress on race relations when he was president, and 27% say he tried but failed.2 A quarter of Americans say Obama made race relations worse. These retrospective views of Obama’s handling of race relations are nearly identical to views expressed during Obama’s last year in office.

Not surprisingly, assessments of Trump’s and Obama’s handling of race relations differ considerably along partisan lines. Democrats overwhelmingly say Trump has made race relations worse (84%), including large shares of black (79%) and white (86%) Democrats. Views are more divided among Republicans. About a third of Republicans (34%) say Trump has improved race relations and 25% say he has tried but failed to make progress; 19% of Republicans say he hasn’t addressed the issue, while 20% say he has made race relations worse.

When it comes to views of Obama’s handling of race relations, 55% of Democrats say he improved race relations during his presidency; just 8% say he made things worse. In contrast, 51% of Republicans say Obama made race relations worse, while 14% say he made progress toward improving it. As is the case with views of Trump’s handling of race relations, white and black Democrats offer somewhat similar assessments of how Obama handled this issue when he was president.

Republicans and Democrats have vastly different views on race

In addition to being linked to views of Trump’s handling of race relations, partisanship is strongly associated with racial attitudes more broadly. In fact, after controlling for other factors, partisanship has a greater association with views about the country’s racial progress than demographic factors, though being young and more educated are also significant predictors, particularly among whites.3

Because whites and nonwhites often have widely different views of racial issues, and nonwhites disproportionately identify with or lean to the Democratic Party, gaps between Republicans and Democrats are often shown among whites in this report in order to account for differences in the racial composition of the two parties.4

White Democrats (64%) are far more likely than white Republicans (15%) to say the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites. About half of Republicans say it’s been about right, while a sizable minority (31%) says the country has gone too far in this regard.

Eight-in-ten white Democrats – vs. 40% of white Republicans – say the legacy of slavery continues to have an impact on black people’s position in American society today. And when it comes to views about racial discrimination, 78% of white Democrats say the bigger problem is people not seeing it where it really does exist, while a similar share of white Republicans say people seeing racial discrimination where it really does not exist is the bigger problem.

Read more at the Pew Research Center.

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